It is with sadness that I have to report that Peter Heathcote, aged 83, died in hospital on 22nd August 2022 from complications with prostate cancer. I know that everyone who knew Peter will join with me in sending condolences to his wife Pauline. Peter was a founder member of the Gravesend RSPB Local Group and did his turn as Group Leader in the 1990’s. Peter and Pauline were great travellers searching for birds all over the World. Back home he would regularly share these trips with the group at our indoor meetings (for free!). He also led outdoor bird watching walks for us, especially to such places as Dungeness and Sandwich Bay Bird Observatories. To say Peter was a bird watcher is hardly correct. He was very interested in the lives of birds, particularly migration and is best described as an ornithologist. He was always a great source of knowledge about the birds we were watching.
However, not everyone is aware of Peter’s work with other animal groups. He was Chairman of the Kent Bat Group and in 1994 (with Pauline) produced the pioneering “The Bats of Kent” published by the Kent Field Club. I am sure this boosted the appreciation and conservation of an often neglected group of mammals. For over 30 years Peter suffered from severe arthritis. One day he told me that crawling around people’s attics to find bats was getting difficult. Undeterred he switched to dormouse! He became a leading light in the conservation of dormouse in Kent – putting up dormouse boxes and regularly recording their success. This work attracted a lot of attention and moved dormouse up the conservation league table. This led to the publication, by the Kent Field Club, of the “Mammals of Kent” in 2015. During this time Peter developed a friendship with the late Eric Philp, Kent’s foremost naturalist of our time. Peter regularly joined Eric with botanical searches for Eric’s “A New Atlas of the Kent Flora” (Kent Field Club). In his acknowledgements Eric wrote about a small group of people that included Peter – he said they “have been regular companions throughout the whole of the mapping and have been of great help and wonderful company”.
When his mobility decreased further Peter switched groups again! He bought himself a moth trap which he used in his garden and also elsewhere. At Sandwich Bay Bird Observatory Peter operated his trap on Open Days – to share his knowledge of moths and to raise awareness of their conservation needs. It was typical of Peter that he was soon involved in the publication of an atlas of the moths of Kent. This has yet to be published but it will fill a very important gap in our knowledge of the natural history of Kent.
There are very few who will have achieved this much for Kent wildlife. As an old teacher of long ago, I have no hesitation of awarding Peter an A*.
Peter’s funeral is on Friday 9 September 2022. See our website for further information.